John Marciari: Although Piranesi’s project to rebuild the Lateran never came to fruition despite the support of Pope Clement XIII, the pope’s nephew, Giambattista Rezzonico, soon afterwards gave our artist a commission to rebuild the Priory of the Knights of Malta. Located high on the Aventine Hill above Rome, the Priory was on the outskirts of the city. Visitors accessed the site either by walking up from the river, or else by taking a carriage that left them at the end of a narrow road at the back of the site. To provide a grander entry to those arriving by carriage, Piranesi created a new piazza. He surrounded this with a high wall that masked the vineyards beyond, which also gave Piranesi a blank canvas to decorate with the signs and symbols of the site, the patron, and the Knights. The Maltese cross refers to the Knights, the medallions with towers to the Rezzonico coat of arms, and the masks, panpipes, and lyre to the Etruscan ceremonies that Piranesi imagined as occurring on the Aventine Hill in antiquity.
First sketched in black chalk, and then refined with pen and ink, this drawing even includes measurements and is clearly the working drawing provided to the stucco artists who brought Piranesi’s plan into being.